Removing barriers to connect local food trucks to customers
Featuring the UX stylings of Ryan Eways, LeighAnn Featheringill, Samantha Kyle, & Heather Patterson in an 8 week design challenge
Noticing a Problem
Every summer in Indianapolis, our local mobile eateries gather downtown for Food Truck Fridays. It’s a busy, highly anticipated recurring event. As we were able to regularly attend this year, my team and I wondered how people in Indianapolis usually find where these trucks will be.
One quick “let me Google that” later, we realized finding food trucks is not as easy as it should be. Vendors advertise their menus and locations inconsistently across multiple different platforms with no real centralized hub. It was difficult to even find out what trucks were in business.
As UX Designers, we saw this as a potentially solvable situation. Together Ryan, Heather, LeighAnn and I chose to tackle this problem head-on and find a better way to bring food trucks and people together.
Getting it Together
The very first thing we did was sort out the roles we would play so our team could most effectively do what we set out to do. We soon discovered we had a well-balanced team consisting of researchers, information architects, copywriters, and visual designers.
As our strengths were varied, I took on the role of Project Manager to keep us on task and hold us to an 8 week timeframe. Additionally, I took on lead for UI development.
Researching the Problem
To know more about what we were attempting to solve, we delved into some history of the industry of food trucks and their presence in Indianapolis.
A Brief History of Nearly Everything (Concerning Food Trucks in America)
Food Truck Facts
Grown in popularity since 2008 recession
Roy Choy opened Kogi in LA in 2008, one of the first gourmet food trucks in the USA
Currently over 4,000 in the USA
(as of Jan 2019)
Are most common in busy urban centers but can still be found in rural and suburban areas
Running a food truck is a lower cost compared to a brick and mortar restaurant
State and Local food truck regulations vary among states
A wide variety of food fare is offered, including:
58 Food trucks registered with Downtown Indy Inc., but other resources such as AroundIndy.com put the number closer to 100
Wide range of cuisines: from sliders to Jamaican jerk chicken to cupcakes
Indy Food Truck Alliance is founded in 2011
February 2012: The NFL employs 13 local food trucks to take part in Super Street Food Showdown in downtown Indy
Pinpointing the Problem
Ultimately, the problem came down to the lines at food trucks being just too long. Customers appeared to sacrifice their preferred choice for a shorter line, and vendors could visibly see customers passing them up if the wait was too long. To find out if this was something we could tackle, we went out and did some good old fashioned asking around. Through a combination of surveys and interviews directly in the field, we found some pretty interesting pain points from both vendors and customers.
Assumptions About Vendors
Vendors in the area would support and promote an app
Organizations that market and manage events would need to be strategic partners for success
Vendors would use an app to promote themselves
Indy metro area has enough of a food truck scene to warrant an app
Vendors want to gain more intentional followers
Vendors rely mainly on events and private bookings
Vendors want a cross-platform way to alert customers of their locations and hours
Vendors would employ a pre-order app to increase their patronage
Assumptions About Customers
Enjoy events more if there’s a food truck option present
Interest and use won’t wane during winter months
Customers choose food trucks over other food, all else being equal
Patronage is purposeful, not just circumstantial
Customers look for events to attend rather than where individual trucks might be
Customers would use an app to locate and follow food trucks
Customers follow their favorite food trucks’ events on social media
Customers would enjoy a pre-order app to limit wait time.
Pain Points for Both Parties
Vendor Pain Points
Want to sell a narrative about their business
Not an easy way to know of possible events
If events are a bust, a lot of food is wasted and money is lost
Hard to consistently show and update schedules and events for customers
Not always easy for customers to find them
No centralized platform for promotion and communication
Serving customers in a timely fashion can be difficult
Customer Pain Points
Lingering (possibly irrational) fear of lower health standards
Cash only trucks are a pain
More expensive and smaller portioned than brick and mortar restaurants
Not many places to sit and eat, if any
Menus are usually very high calorie
Long lines and wait times can be a turn off
Selling out of items
Cannot substitute or just purchase a side item
Overall we found that customers are frustrated by long lines and wait times and Vendors are already stretched to their limit and can’t afford to misstep in their process.
How might we break down the barriers between transient food vendors and their customers by decreasing wait times?
Checking Out the Competition
To see what we were up against, some research on our competition needed to happen. Ultimately we discovered that, while there were many different apps for finding food trucks, none of them included our fair Indy.
It dawned on us that to outshine all these existing apps we could step it up and provide a way for vendors to offer mobile ordering. Many brick and mortar restaurants have been using online ordering for quite some time, and if implemented correctly, it could be a boon for both customers and vendors and address their biggest pain points.
Ideal Users: Personas & Stories
To put ourselves in the shoes of our ideal user, we came up with a scenario where they might use our app.
Jason and his friend Brian just love food trucks, but there’s just one problem: Jason hates how long it takes to actually order his food! Brian, being the guy that knows where to get what you need, found our app and shared it with Jason. Could this app really cut their wait time to the point that they could try more than one truck without standing around forever? Jason decides to give it a shot at the next Truck Fest. Using our app, he finds which trucks will be there and which ones offer mobile ordering. He places an order for one truck while waiting in line at another, and is notified as soon as it’s ready to pick up. Jason, you’ve just stood in two lines at once! By having our app digitally hold his place in the queue, Jason and Brian were able to get their food in a timely manner and enjoy it at their leisure.
Designing A Solution
Product Design & User Testing - Lo-fi Wireframes
Using a combination of InVision Freehand and pencil to paper, we brainstormed our beginning wireframes in a few different lightning rounds. The best of the best became the basis for our basic wireframe prototype.
To see if what we were building was seen as functional by the general user base, we put together a workable prototype and ran some user testing scenarios.
You have tons of work to complete before the end of the day. It is now lunch time, and you would like to get food from Marie’s Taco Truck up the street, but you also would like to complete some work during your break.
Locate Marie’s Taco Truck on map
Create an order of 1 Steak Taco and a bottled water
Adjust your pick-up time to 1:30
Fill out payment
Check status of order
You have free time Sunday, and heard that one of your favorite food vendors, Bobby’s BBQ, is going to be at Rib Fest happening downtown, which sounds like a delicious good time!
Locate info on Rib Fest
View event details
View Bobby’s BBQ Truck profile
View Bobby’s BBQ menu
While building the lo-fi prototype, I took the lead and began development of the look and feel of what we were now calling FoodQ. Ultimately we wanted to create something easy and helpful.
Style Guide & UI
The base of the look was derived from asking our users what colors came to mind when they thought of food trucks. Since most users said orange, we worked on developing a bright palette that would accentuate content without being overbearing.
User Interface Design
Beginning the hi-fi design, we felt that clean and simple would be best. For the overall look and feel of the layout, we leaned heavily on Google’s Material Design guidelines. Not only is there visual familiarity, it’s clean and simple with just the right amount of space.
Hi-fi Prototype: The FoodQ Experience
When we were satisfied with the hi-fi, we added a little polish and built our new prototype. Having recently worked with it and thoroughly enjoying it, I developed the hi-fi prototype in Adobe XD. A smooth flow for navigation is much more pleasurable than a static slideshow, so I developed a few animations for certain interactions to add a bit of delight and whimsy to how our users might experience FoodQ.
The end result brings all of our hard work together and showcases the culmination of weeks of research, developing, testing, iteration, and design work.
Given more time and opportunity, I’d definitely run a few more user tests and tweak the prototype here and there for the customer facing version of this app. Fleshing out a vendor facing version would also be in the running.
While our team initially appeared to be strong and well balanced, it proved to be all that and much more. LeighAnn and Heather were ruthless with interviews, testing, and general gathering of data. Ryan and I took on UI like it was a walk in the park. Managing this project wouldn’t have been half as successful if I weren’t working with such a communicative team.
As with all projects, there were a few bumps along the way. Although unexpected, we handled them in good stride and adjusted accordingly. Schedules were re-written, priorities changed, and disagreements were settled. I learned that although it’s a daunting task, Product Design is achievable through careful planning, adaptable processes, and some serious user empathy. In the end I enjoyed myself immensely and am very proud of where FoodQ ended up.